Blu-ray
Recommended
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Street Date:
June 24th, 2008
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
June 20th, 2008
Movie Release Year:
2008
Studio:
Paramount Home Entertainment
Length:
101 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

'The Spiderwick Chronicles' is the rare fantasy film that presents its most fantastical elements as utter reality. Unlike so many films in this genre which overdo the "magic" to the point that nothing seems particularly special, 'Spiderwick Chronicles' grounds us in a universe that is so well-imagined, and so believable, that we are genuinely wowed when the extraordinary events finally unspool. Here is a charming and delightful family film that never takes its itself -- or us -- for granted.

Based on the famous book series by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, 'Spiderwick Chronicles' tells the tale of the Grace family, who move from New York to the secluded Spiderwick Estate, once home to their great uncle Arthur Spiderwick (David Straithairn) and his daughter Lucinda ( . Initially, the Grace children, including young Jared (Freddie Highmore), his twin Simon (also Highmore) and sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger), are resistant to the Estate's charms, which is obvious in their thinly-veiled anger towards their single mother (Mary-Louise Parker). Then Jared stumbles into a secret room in the house, and discovers an ancient book, "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You." A portal to an invisible world of supernatural whimsy, Jared will have to help the forces of good that seek to protect the book (including a variety of creatures voiced by Martin Short and Seth Rogen) as he and his siblings explore the hidden mysteries of the unseen all around them.

Truth be told, 'Spiderwick Chronicles' doesn't do anything particularly new in terms of story. The hidden/visible perspective is a time-worn device often used in the genre, and the film's none-too-subtle theme of the fractured family restored through extraordinary circumstances has been mined for years by Steven Spielberg, but where 'Spiderwick' elevates itself is in its skilled handling of tone. Director Mark Waters ('Freaky Friday,' 'Mean Girls') doesn't overplay the fantasy, to the point that the early scenes feel so ordinary and domestic that we are thoroughly engaged before even a single special effect is splashed across the screen.

Of course, 'Spiderwick' is a fantasy film, so it does deliver all of the expected cool creatures and enjoyable setpieces. These, too, are handled adroitly, with a nice eye to giving even the minor monsters a personality and unique quirks. I particularly liked Hogsquel (Rogen), who has a penchant for birds, as well as Short's very short Thimbletack, who is one of the better creations to come along in a genre film since Dobby in the 'Harry Potter' franchise. Polished, and handsomely photographed, 'Spiderwick Chronicles' certainly looks great, and the mix of CGI, excellent production design and a wonderful location in the Spiderwick Estate makes for quite a wonderfully-realized universe.

'Spiderwick Chronicles' also boasts an excellent cast. Adult actors like Straithairn, Parker, and Short are a given, but in Highmore ('Finding Neverland,' 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'), we have one of the least obnoxious child actors to come along in years. Handling the dual roles of Jared and Simon with aplomb, he is able to create distinctive personalities, even acting against himself and blue screen like an old pro. Bolger is also a hoot, and one of the rare child performers who manages to make a purposely snarky character endearing -- somehow, Bolger understands that Mallory's sarcasm is borne of anger, which adds a surprising layer of poignancy to the familial melodrama. Though 'Spiderwick' never forgets what kind of film it is, for once in a family fantasy flick, we really understand and believe in the plight of the characters.

Will 'Spiderwick Chronicles' work for everyone? Probably not. Some may find even the muted sentimentality of the film too lightweight. There has also been criticism leveled at the movie by fans of the book series. Events are compressed, characters composited, and many key subplots have been reduced or eliminated. Having no knowledge of the novels, I went into 'Spiderwick Chronicles' blind, and simply on the level of taking the movie for what it is, I found it a spirited and enchanting ride. If you're looking for a film that is truly fun for the whole family (and doesn't condescend to either the adults or children in attendance), 'Spiderwick Chronicles' is well worth discovering.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Paramount brings 'Spiderwick Chronicles' to Blu-ray in a very nice 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1).

The source is spotless, with wonderful rich blacks and, for once, healthy contrast that's not overcooked. The level of detail is generally excellent, with the picture exhibiting great depth typical of the best high-def. Colors are somewhat inconsistent, however, with earlier passages a bit bland, while vibrant hues enliven the last third or so of the film. The palette is always stable, however, and fleshtones were usually accurate.

Nitpicks are led by a slightly dark cast to the presentation. Shadow delineation suffers slightly from a harsh black crush which obscures the finest details. There is also a tad bit of softness from time to time, though generally, the transfer is quite sharp. The encode is spiffy, however, with no compression artifacts or edge enhancement to report. All in all, 'Spiderwick Chronicles' looks very good indeed.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

'Spiderwick Chronicles' gets an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), which is a fine presentation of a slightly disappointing sound mix. I hoped this one would be more aggressive.

The surrounds throughout much of the film feel too reserved. Action is fairly immersive, with noticeable discrete effects and nice dispersion throughout the soundfield. However, ambiance is lacking, and a more sustained presence to minor effects and the score would have been quite welcome. Dynamics are as punchy as you would expect for a new, A-list studio effort, with very strong bass and excellent clarity throughout the frequency spectrum. Dialogue is airtight and well-rooted in the center, so even the more stylized voices sound great. Even if I wasn't completely blown away by the sound design of 'The Spiderwick Chronicles,' it delivers more often than not.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Hitting Blu-ray day-and-date with the DVD, there's a bevy of bonus material here. The quality of the making-of material is matched by the excellent 1080p/i/AVC MPEG-4 video, which looks great. (Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are offered on all of the non-promotional extras.)

  • Featurette: "It's All True!" (HD, 7 minutes) - Director Mark Waters introduces us to the extras on the disc, as well as the world of 'Spiderwick,' with this overview of the source novels and the formidable challenges faced by the filmmakers in translating this beloved world to the big screen. And in a whimsical touch, Waters also provides us with a list of household items we'll need to "survive" the rest of the extras. Cute.
  • Featurette: "Meet the Clan!" (HD, 14 minutes) - The first of the production-based featurettes, this introduces us to the cast of the film, featuring on-set interviews with Freddie Highmore and just about all of the rest of the main players (including some interesting tech info on shooting with the Grace twins). Some of the material is too surface and stated in future-tense ("This movie is gonna be great!") but it does offer a nice little overview of the key characters of 'Spiderwick.'
  • Featurette: "Making 'Spiderwick'" (HD, 21 minutes) - A fairly straightforward look at the production, with better behind-the-scenes footage than the rest of the featurettes. Waters is also praised, and there is ample info on the impressive production design, sets and costumes.
  • Featurette: "Magic of 'Spiderwick'" (HD, 14 minutes) - Here post-production is dissected, mainly the extensive CGI and other special effects required to put the magic in 'Chronicles.'
  • "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guild" - This neat text- and graphics-based feature allows the user to click through the various creatures seen in the film, including Boggarts, Sprites, Ogres, and Goblins (and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) There are also some fun details on various "Protections" used to ward off these various creatures, so this should be a fun little extra for fans.
  • Field Guild: In Movie Mode - A nifty extension of the previous feature, this pop-up trivia track delivers the usual making-of factoids, but with a twist. Throughout the track, prompts will appear that, if you hit Enter on your remote, will lead you to pages of the Field Guild above. It's a nice way to integrate the content into the disc in a more interactive way (even if, admittedly, it's probably easier just to access the content manually).
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 8 minutes) - Four scenes are included. None are all that revelatory (most are character bits with Highmore), and there no big cut action or creature setpieces. The quality is unusually high for deleted scenes, with all presented in full HD.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD) - Two are provided -- the teaser and full trailer -- and both in full 1080p.
  • TV Spots (SD) - Nine spots, originally produced for Nickelodeon, are included. Due to their being produced for television, these are the only extras offered in 480p/MPEG-2 only.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no high-def exclusives.

Final Thoughts

'Spiderwick Chronicles' makes for lively and fanciful family entertainment, the type that for once entertains children and adults alike. Add in some neat visuals, solid performances, and an uplifting story, and you have one of the better fantasy-adventures Hollywood has produced lately. This Blu-ray is pretty spiffy, too, with strong video and audio, and a ton of supplements. 'Spiderwick Chronicles' is an easy recommend.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Portuguese Subtitles

Supplements

  • Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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